Seven or eight years ago, I shocked a large group of my Pagan friends. I was at a small festival in Oklahoma that happened to take place during St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I was vending and teaching at this festival (as well as performing my first song) and knew most of the attendees very well. As we were cleaning the dining hall after dinner, I invited everyone down to my vendor table to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a drink of Irish whiskey. The look of horror on some of their faces was priceless.
Circle of One
Not only do Solitary Pagans have to deal with a different assortment of challenges than other Pagans, we also have to take different approaches to Community and Unity. Understanding who we are as Solitaries is critical if we are to be equal partners in the Greater Pagan Community.
Being Solitary is a defining part of who I am as a Pagan. I meet so many other Solitaries in my journeys and often find them feeling disconnected from the greater Pagan Community. That is why I write this blog and speak on this topic whenever I can. The specific topic I write about today applies to every segment of the Community because, when it comes right down to it, each of us are Solitary within our own minds, and that’s important to remember. Even Traditional Pagans often feel disenfranchised or isolated, (and most practice away from their Covens as well as with them) so this article is really for everyone in the Community.
A few of you might be aware that I was involved in a very serious (and very stupid) accident in mid-December. I quickly sent out a call to my friends asking for healing energy directly from my hospital bed. I was in extraordinary pain when I sent that request and was badly broken. One aspect of my life as a Solitary has been to shield myself from the energy of others in most instances. Bad experiences from my past have made me very cautious about the energies I take in and (generally speaking) I never open myself to energy from people I’ve never met.
I had really planned to write this week about a completely different topic. I have done my best to avoid the Teo Bishop rants on the web, and honestly I glaze over any time I try to read one. Ultimately, I find that I can’t leave the situation without comment, despite my deepest desires to do so.
Like so many other American Pagans, I came to Paganism after being raised in the Christian church. Like so many other American Pagans, after I found Paganism I went through a bout of Christian bashing. It’s silly and immature, but seems to be a common response for those who convert. Trust me, after 2 years in Baptist school, I had plenty of anger and resentment towards Christianity. It took about a decade for that to really calm down in my soul. When the “smoke cleared”, I discovered that I never had any problems with Jesus at all – it’s those who claim to be his followers that were at the heart of the issue for me. I personally think that the Sermon on the Mount is a beautiful guide to life and wish that more people would follow it. I also think it is critical to separate “Jesus” from “the church” – Christians are not Christ or I wouldn’t have written this.
I have spent decades talking to Pagans about the perceived “culture of poverty” within the Pagan Community. That is the belief that “I can’t afford that and I never will be able to” or “I can’t go to that festival for $70, even though they will feed and house me for 3 days.” I have spent the last year telling anyone and everyone who will listen that the Pagan Community needs a professional media corps. If you’d like to see some of my arguments for why, check our website – www.PaganTV.org.
I realized something a few weeks ago. Pick the euphemism you prefer – “put your money where your mouth is”, “put up or shut up”, or “if you talk the talk you need to walk the walk.” It is true that I spend a fair amount of money every year attending various Pagan events and festivals. Like many of us, I also buy plenty of Pagan goodies from incense to altar tools to books, books, and more books. All of those activities are good for our Community economy but really aren’t enough to help us get to where we need to go.
It’s a sad fact that there are a few Pagans among us who have to hide their beliefs because it could cause them to lose a job or they feel their religion might be used against them in a custody battle, or an assortment of other legitimate reasons. Before the explosion of Paganism into the public realm in the 1980s this wasn’t really an issue because most covens were kept secret and there was little public information about Paganism or Witchcraft. Since that time, the term “broom closet” (borrowed from the LGBT community’s term) has grown in use. It contrasts those of us who do not hide our Pagan beliefs (“out of the broom closet”) versus those who do (still “in the broom closet”). As more and more of us stopped hiding our beliefs (which is not at all the same as advertising them), this term became more and more common.
As a Community, we have been very respectful of those who are “in the broom closet”. We ban cameras at events, we hold events that are closed to the public, and often go so far as to keep secret the location of events, even from participants, until the last moment. Much of this is a holdover from the days when Paganism was hidden. It is also a legacy of basic practices of many covens, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we have simply incorporated this idea of “hiding in plain sight” into almost everything we do in some Communities. I think it’s time for a new dialog around this issue.
I have always viewed the Solitary (Solitary By Choice) as one who walks alone on her spiritual path, not one isolated from other Pagans. I have known many who, while not walking my path, walked paths parallel to mine for a time. There are others who are walking very different paths but with whom I still enjoy a deep, powerful magickal relationship. There is another category that is often called “Solitary” and, while they face many of the same issues as the Solitary By Choice, they also have their own unique set of challenges. These are the folks who are looking for a coven or other formal group or tradition, but have not yet found their home. We do have a lot of the same challenges and I include them when I talk about Solitaries as much as I possibly can. I am neither proud nor ashamed of the fact that I am Solitary BY Choice – it is simply the path that has called me. I do not think that formal training with a coven is less or more legitimate than the Solitary path – they are just different ways to reach truth.
Those of us who choose a Solitary path can be a difficult group with which to work. When we speak of the trouble in organizing Pagans as “herding cats” it’s never truer than when dealing with the dedicated Solitary. Many of us are proud of our independence and may stubbornly cling to it beyond the bounds of logic. Those who are forced to be Solitary by geography (or other factors) may not always possess the same type of fierce independence. They may be seeking out the companionship, guidance, and structure of a coven or group – things studiously avoided by some who are Solitary By Choice....